In the NBA playoffs, Game 4 is often the pivotal game in a series, whether it’s the NBA Finals, or the first round. In each such game they’ve faced so far, the Lakers have been holding a 2-1 lead, just like they are against the Miami Heat right now. In all three previous cases, they’ve won the next two games and the round.
There is some symmetry in that, but the NBA Finals can often be a different challenge than any prior series. Here are four questions that the answers to could determine whether or not the Lakers respond the same way they have in previous rounds.
How will Anthony Davis respond to his worst game of the playoffs?
As our own Sabreena Merchant exhaustively detailed, Anthony Davis’ bad night against Miami in Game 3 can’t be merely chalked up to foul trouble. The Heat adjusted their approach against Davis, and he and the Lakers never made a counter-adjustment.
She had a few suggestions for what they could do, but as important as anything might be that Davis felt burned by his bad night, upset with himself for how poorly played.
“It sucks,” Davis said. “Because you know if you play well and had done your job, then you possibly could have won the game. It always sucks when you lose, and especially when you don’t play well.”
The good new for Davis is that he only has to wait one day before he has a chance to bounce back. Teams have had success on him in the playoffs, but generally not for more than one game in a row. It seems fairly likely that the Lakers will get a better version of him, or at least that’s what LeBron James is predicting.
“I expect him to be AD. I’m looking forward to getting out on the floor with him once again tomorrow night,” James said.
If that happens, the rest of this stuff ultimately may not matter.
Is Danny Green healthy enough to give the Lakers anything?
When Danny Green responded to questions about the severity of his hip and finger injuries on Sunday morning by saying that he’s just hoping his body “can sustain winning two more games,” it was hard to be optimistic about where he’s at right now. His play in Game 4 did little to assuage those concerns.
At practice on Monday, reporters pressed head coach Frank Vogel for more information about what exactly is going wrong with Green. How he described the issue did not offer a ton more hope.
“He has some tightness in his hip. It’s not an injury,” Vogel said, adding that the training staff was working with Green on a daily basis to try and keep him loose and able to suit up. “I don’t know how much that’s having an impact on his play. But he’s able to go. So we’ll continue to monitor it.”
Green is shooting just 4-20 from distance in the Finals, and while his team defense is still pretty good, he got lit up individually while trying to check Jimmy Butler, a matchup that is not ideal for him even under the best of circumstances. Worse still, he hasn’t been moving well, and it’s been bad enough that Vogel has now dusted off J.R. Smith for two games in a row (it hasn’t helped).
And while Green is clearly loathe to make excuses because he knows how they’ll sound, he also has hardly offered a glowing endorsement of his own status.
“I’m playing man, so I’m good. I’m feeling fine,” Green said. “For us, (if) we’re on the court so we’re fine. We’ll figure it out. I’ll be fine.”
If Green continues to lay bricks, the Lakers may have to figure out some sort of lineup adjustment, or at least reduce his minutes. The team has still been slightly better with him on the court than off during the Finals, but only just so, and that’s more attributable to just how bad Smith has been than anything else. Playing Kyle Kuzma or Markieff Morris more in jumbo lineups isn’t a perfect solution, but with few other options, those may have to be units Vogel is forced to look at, because the rest of his options — Dion Waiters, Talen Horton-Tucker and Quinn Cook — all leave a lot to be desired defensively.
If the Lakers’ stars show out Green’s poor play might not matter, but there is also a chance Miami improves because of their own injury situation.
Will the Heat get healthy?
Miami has been missing two starters in the last few games, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic. Adebayo has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable with a neck strain, while Dragic remains questionable after tearing his plantar fascia in Game 1. The Lakers could have been up 3-0 with Adebayo’s possible return on the table, but because of their mediocre effort and execution in Game 3, now could see him back with a chance to even the series.
Bam Adebayo has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable for Game 4 on this evening’s injury report, the Heat say.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) October 5, 2020
Earlier today, Adebayo said: “I’m trying to get back as quickly as possible, but they’re just trying to make sure I’m safe and I’m ready to play.”
Goran Dragic said the likelihood he plays in Game 4 is "low." https://t.co/5GiFf4Ag26— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) October 5, 2020
Still, while Adebayo returning for the Heat coming off of a Heat victory might seem to swing the momentum back towards Miami, this might not be that simple. While even a still-recovering Adebayo is likely better than current starter Meyers Leonard, if Miami fully recommits to small-ball with him back, it might make them simpler for the Lakers to defend if it moves Kelly Olynyk and his spacing out of the rotation, and ironically make the Heat weaker defensively by having less size around the rim (something that was a problem for the Heat in Game 1).
Plus, the Lakers will also likely simply play harder with Adebayo back on the floor and the Heat once again seeming like a bigger threat. This is a team that has a tendency to play down to their competition at times, but they have been pretty good about getting up for big games, too. The challenge of holding Adebayo down and proving the first two games don’t have a proverbial asterisk on them may fit the bill.
Now, all of this could look pretty stupid if Adebayo comes back and the Heat adjust their approach again, but for now, let’s just say that his return isn’t necessarily something to panic over, because the Lakers likely have a few things they’re going to change, too.
What adjustments do the Lakers have up their sleeves?
After watching the film from a loss, the Lakers have typically responded pretty well. It’s why they weren’t overly worried about their Game 3 defeat, and they saw some things they think they can clean up.
“Our turnovers really killed us,” James said after practice on Monday the day after the Lakers coughed up the ball 19 times against the Heat. “We can’t turn the ball over versus this team. We also had some breakdowns defensively throughout the course of the game that we’re not accustomed to having. Those will be cleaned up in Game 4.”
Davis, Vogel and Green all said that communication on defense was a big issue as well, suggesting that it was a factor that was more than covered in their film session.
“You can’t really tell if someone is communicating on film, but you can tell, if you kind of get what I mean,” Davis said, adding that the team was also both over-helping and letting players slip screens and get to the rim unencumbered. “We were having blown coverages. There was a lot of space on the floor for guys to drive to the basket with no resistance, no help. Guys were hung up on their man. You could tell that we weren’t ourselves defensively.”
Vogel said the Lakers “typically communicate as well as any team” he’s ever been a part of, so he expects them to be better in that respect in Game 4. Green thinks that part of the solution for all the issues, though, is just the Lakers locking in more.
“I think more so than anything have to get everybody on the same page mentally. Physically I think we’re fine. Mentally, emotionally, I think guys need to stay in the moment and not look at the light at the end of the tunnel,” Green said.
“We’ve got to protect each other. We have to help each other,” Davis added. “That wasn’t the case last night, and a big reason why we lost.”
James is confident that all of it will be better on Tuesday night.
“We’re able to take a loss and understand why we lost. Understand things that we should have done better and things that we can apply to the next game to be better. We’re right back at that moment once again with the opportunity to be better than we were in the game before,” James said.
“Looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow night.”
The Lakers and Heat will tip-off at 6:00 p.m. PT on ABC. You can also sign up to watch the game on fuboTV here. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.